I’d like you to be part of an experiment please. Don’t worry, it’s not one of those crazy ones where they inject you with an unstable chemical compound or see what happens when you mix human and reptile DNA or anything like that. Anyone who’s ever read sci-fi knows that’s never a good idea. Unless you like reptilian overlords, in which case it is the BEST idea.
Lizard DNA + you = bad day at the office.
What I’d like you to do is read a story. See, that’s no bad is it? Reading stories is what smart, attractive and charismatic people do for fun after all. This one’s only 9 pages long. Yes, I know, you’re on the internet, you want to be reading three articles at once whilst simultaneously listening to a podcast about comedians who moonlight as astrophysicists and watching a youtube video about a cat on a skateboard lip syncing to George Michael, but just download the damn story and focus on one single thing for a few minutes. It’ll be good for you: ARTEFACTS & UPGRADES.
When you’ve read it, scroll down below. I have a little question I’d like to ask you…
Did you actually read it?
Are you sure?
Alright then. Let’s talk about sex, by which I mean gender. You may have noticed that neither of the central characters in that story had a specific gender. I gave them (as well as the narrator’s partner, Riley) gender-neutral names and avoided the use of gender specific pronouns altogether. What I’d like to know is: What sex did you assume the two main characters were and why? You can leave your comments below, email me (jmdonellanATgmailDOTcom) or tweet me (@jmdonellan).
Some of the content in this story is based on the real life biohacker Lepht Anonym, who does not identify as either male or female. He/she is one of many real life DIY ‘transhumanists‘ or ‘grinders‘ who have implanted themselves with various devices such as the discussed rare earth magnet and RFID tag. Also, an interesting sidenote; when Charlotte Bronte released Jane Eyre under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, a female literary critic said that ‘Currer’ had no idea about women and that a real woman would never be so headstrong and forthright. Boy must her face have been red when she watched this video:
PS If you’re sitting there thinking ‘Do we really need do whine about gender issues in 2013? Didn’t we, like, fix gender equality and racism and save the whales back in ’98 or something?’ then you should probably watch this ad for the new season of Masterchef…be warned, it will make you want to punch things.
12 responses to “A story, an experiment.”
I thought straight up the first character was male, and the second was female. And then I got confused, and having the second character say they liked girls solidified the confusion.
That said, gender didn’t really add anything to the story. It wasn’t really about a male or female perspective.
Fair enough, like you said it wasn’t a story about gender as such ‘what it’s like to be a man/woman’ etc. It was more that I wanted to play with these attributes and see what assumptions people made.
I, too, assumed that the first character was male and the second was female. When Riley was introduced, the name threw me a little and I had to think, but I read on still with the assumption that the first person narrator was male. I also assumed Riley was female, and didn’t assume a gay relationship, which on the re-read could also be a possibility.
When the second character talked about body modification and how much they had hated their body, I definitely thought female. Was that because I believe women have more body issues than men? And the x-rated sleepovers? Again, was definitely thinking female/female.
Having said that, the story carries well without any pre-determined gender clarification, but it’s an interesting experiment for me also to examine my own assumptions and why I made them.
(Also, I have to admit I did that thing that I actually hate the most – because I know you are male, I read the first person narrative/perspective from that assumption of an autobiographical nature. Ugh. I can’t believe I did that!)
I actually hate that the most – when people assume everything I write is somewhat autobiographical (and I did the thing I hate – oh the shame!)
Interesting experiment. Thanks.
Thanks Michelle. The straight/gay assumptions were part of it as well. And yes, I also have to remind myself not to assume that just because authors are writing in first person doesn’t mean the gender of their central protagonist will be the same as their own.
Narrator male, Riley female, Sam female. Obv.
I assumed the same as everyone else, and I went back and looked over it again afterwards because hey you know I’m a forward-thinking bisexual feminist etc etc. But I guess it’s because it’s littered with things to trigger cultural assumptions (which I assume you did on purpose.) The protagonist’s job – scientist – “typically” male. The way the protag muses on monogamy, lost youth, the idea of mediocrity and getting old… definitely a very male construction.
The way that the protag notices, with a shock, the tattoos and shaved head – a shaved head especially would be less shocking on a man than a woman. For a man, getting your head shaved is a haircut. For a woman, that’s a massive change. The notion, as previously mentioned, of body-hatred and using body modification as a way out of that has, in recent times, been shaped as a uniquely female concern.
I guess even the idea of the relationship paradigm, with the guilty protag and their nagging domestic partner calls to heteronormative practices.
I’ll also say this – it made for slightly stilted reading, all this pronoun ambiguity. Even if I didn’t notice it directly, I did think that there was something slightly off about the prose. You did it very well, but it does highlight the gap left behind in writing when you remove explicit gender references.
No confusion about gender at all. The only thing that concerned me was the coin being affected by the rare-earth magnet. How many countries use coins that can be affected by a magnetic field? I mean, that’s how the vending machine determines whether you have put in a real coin or a slug of metal.
Good little story. I found it got infinitely more interesting when the active scenes began (around the point of Sam’s introduction), though there was some lovely writing throughout.
It’s interesting that you say some of this is based on an actual person because I found myself suspending disbelief in places. I suppose it’s my fault as the reader, but I had trouble getting my head around my preconceived scientist archetypes; the scientists in my head wouldn’t have a wild, hedonistic backstory. I’m generalising, but I had trouble believing someone who could just snap their fingers and get laid would dedicate their professional lives to trying to pioneer a scientific breakthrough. I suppose there’s egotism involved, but I feel that angle could’ve been more pronounced.
One last thing: I really loved the way this ended. Very poignant and satisfying. … And that’s enough stupid feedback.
In regards to the gender experiment, I too assumed that the protagonist was male and that Riley was his female partner. The voice just sounded quintessentially male. When Sam arrived I admit I stumbled blindly for a while. I assumed that she was a woman, but went about looking for gender-specific pronouns to confirm this. So, the experiment caused some disorientation, but it didn’t particularly challenge my views on gender roles (unless I missed or misinterpreted something?).
Thanks for sharing, Josh.
I really enjoyed this story. Kind of unusual in a good way and I was pretty intrigued the whole time.
On the issue of gender, initially I assumed the narrator was female due to the relationship with Riley (who I assumed was male). I thought Sam might be male due to the bloke in the bar being aggressive (trying to prove his dominance perhaps?), but when Sam said “I’ve always liked girls” I then considered the possibility that the narrator was a gay man. I was really not too sure the whole time though. Interesting experiment and definitely thought-provoking.
Thanks for all the feedback everyone! I feel I may have overemphasised the gender aspect of this story. It is first and foremost supposed to be a story about the central character dealing with the lost promises of youth in the second half of their life. But I was intrigued to see what characteristics people said made characters male or female. For instance I had people say that the narrator was definitely male because of the way he was so nostalgic and self-reflective, and I had people say that these some traits made her definitely female.
I also had people say that the way that the two central characters interacted was a definite male/female paradigm and others say it was a definite male/female discussion.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!
[…] it in this forum. Also I had a few people ask about the ‘ungendered’ story I mentioned: there’s a link here. PS Hambleton loves whiskey. True […]